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Construction Leaders Working With State On Reopening Plan

Construction leaders are working to establish guidelines for reopening the industry.

Construction stakeholders and state agencies are determining when and how construction workers can go back to work.

Gov. Jay Inslee deemed almost all construction nonessential on March 25. The stay-at-home order is set to expire May 4 but could be extended.

Since then, most job sites have been idle and the number of construction workers filing for unemployment spiked by 28,021 for the week ending March 28, a 1,315% increase.

As the number of coronavirus positive tests and deaths fall in Washington, the governor says the state will soon transition from the “dull blade” of social distancing to a more targeted approach, which will focus on the infected and allow others to return to work.

Though he did not offer a timeline, he said he expects the relaxation of restrictions to roll back the same way it rolled in. That means that nonessential businesses, including construction firms, will be the first to open. Schools will be the last.

Before anything happens, however, the state needs to take a “fire brigade” approach, which is a rapid response to positive tests that must be put in place to treat and isolate the infected.

Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Mark Riker is part of the industry group meeting with the state about reopening guidelines. 

“The entire driving factor is about workplace safety,” he said. “This is a work hazard that doesn’t stay on the job site. It can go home with you and infect those you live with.”

The availability of personal protective equipment has been an issue for the industry, but new research indicates that N95 masks are not required for construction, Riker said. He said workers are safe with lower-quality face coverings, as long as they are not in close contact and don’t congregate. 

Easing fear is one hurdle the industry must face, Riker said.

“Our members are nervous,” he said. “When we go back to work we are going to have a culture change. We are used to standing right next to each other. That’s a dangerous thing to do now.” 

On the other hand, many small residential construction companies are struggling without the ability to work and are facing potential bankruptcies. For those firms, Riker is working to direct them to state and federal assistance programs that may be able to help them.

“This hit everywhere so fast and so hard,” Riker said. “Even though provisions are in place, the mechanisms are being overwhelmed.”

The task force is set to meet again Thursday.

“I’m optimistic that we will see some openings by May 4, but it will be challenging,” he said. “It depends on how quickly our industry can educate and adapt to the changes. Until we get medication and vaccines we will have to change the way we behave on the job site. We share tools, but we can’t do that now.” 

The task force, which meets twice a week, includes representatives from the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, the Association of General Contractors, the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Association of Washington Businesses, Sound Transit, the National Association of Minority Contractors, the Washington Association of Cities, the Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises and the Washington departments of transportation, labor and industries, health, enterprise services and commerce.

Related Topics: coronavirus, coronavirus Seattle